Archive for the ‘words’ Category

“No! no!” said Bilbo. “I didn’t mean that. I meant, is there no way round [Mirkwood]?”

“There is, if you care to go two hundred miles or so out of your way north, and twice that south. But you would get a safe path even then. There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun where you go. Before you could get round Mirkwood in the North you would be right among the slops of the Grey Mountains, and they are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description. Before you could get round it in the South, you would get into the land of the Necromancer; and even you, Bilbo, won’t need me to tell you tales of that black sorcerer. I don’t advise you to go anywhere near places overlooked by his dark tower! Stick to the forest-track, keep your spirits up, hope for the best…” (121)

J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

For Numa himself also, to whom no prophet of God, no holy angel was sent, was driven to have recourse to hydromancy, that he might see the images of the gods in the water (or, rather, appearances whereby the demons made sport of him), and might learn from them what he ought to ordain and observe in the sacred rites. This kind of divination, says Varro, was introduced from the Persians, and was used by Numa himself, and at an after time by the philosopher Pythagoras. In this divination, he says, they also inquire at the inhabitants of the nether world, and make use of blood; and this the Greeks call νεκρομαντείαν. But whether it be called necromancy or hydromancy it is the same thing, for in either case the dead are supposed to foretell future things… let him who does not desire to live a pious life even now, seek eternal life by means of such rites. But let him who does not wish to have fellowship with malign demons have no fear for the noxious superstition wherewith they are worshipped, but let him recognize the true religion by which they are unmasked and vanquished. (VII.35)

St Augustine of Hippo, bishop, The City of God

In the recent adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a good bit has been given over to the role of “the Necromancer,” a character who only receives two rather short references in the book itself (p. 30 and above), but what is understood to another name for Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor. Necromancy, the communication with and divination by the dead, has often been called “the dark arts,” an brilliant corruption of necro- [corpse], into nigro- [black].

And yet there is that space in the creed where we affirm the Communion of Saint, that is the Church on Earth and in Heaven: “At the present time some of [Christ’s] disciples are pilgrims on earth; others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.”‘

There is something more, much more, in the Communion of Saints than divination, asking for petty insight into the future or about cheap worldly cares. By the light of faith we do not look to or into the future, nor is divination what hope is. The Saints who are already dwell in the Heavenly reality gaze on the God, triune and one. The Saints of the earthly realm see by faith, keeping watch for Christ, for they know not when the master of the house returns. The light of faith and the assurance of hope only make the earthly pilgrim ready.

“Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…. They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”

As for our dead – those who are still being purified in the hope of the heavenly reality – it is they who rely on us, not us on them by divination, necromancy or otherwise. It is by our prayers and intercessions, and thusly by the great merits of Christ, our mediator and redeemer, for their sins are forgiven before judgment. Our prayers for our dead ultimately arise from charity, which in turn draws us closer to the Triune God.


Jules Eugene Lenepveu, “The Martyrs in the Catacombs” (1855)


n., the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead; (more generally) divination, sorcery, witchcraft, enchantment. See black magic.

[Classical Latin necromantīa, evocation of the dead, a name for the part of the Odyssey (Book XI) describing Odysseus’ visit to Hades (recorded as a variant of necyomantea (cf. necyomancy) in some MSS. of Pliny), in post-classical Latin also the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead (3rd cent.) < Hellenistic Greek νεκρομαντεία, the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead (first in Origen, 3rd cent. a.d.) < Ancient Greek νεκρο, corpse + μαντεία, divination]

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A sermon of St Gregory the Great on his feast day:

For the love of Christ I do not spare myself in preaching him ‘Son of man, I have appointed you as watchman to the house of Israel.’ Note that Ezekiel, whom the Lord sent to preach his word, is described as a watchman. Now a watchman always takes up his position on the heights so that he can see from a distance whatever approaches. Likewise whoever is appointed watchman to a people should live a life on the heights so that he can help them by taking a wide survey.

These words are hard to utter, for when I speak it is myself that I am reproaching. I do not preach as I should nor does my life follow the principles I preach so inadequately.

I do not deny that I am guilty, for I see my torpor and my negligence. Perhaps my very recognition of failure will win me pardon from a sympathetic judge. When I lived in a monastic community I was able to keep my tongue from idle topics and to devote my mind almost continually to the discipline of prayer. Since taking on my shoulders the burden of pastoral care, I have been unable to keep steadily recollected because my mind is distracted by many responsibilities.

I am forced to consider questions affecting churches and monasteries and often I must judge the lives and actions of individuals; at one moment I am forced to take part in certain civil affairs, next I must worry over the incursions of barbarians and fear the wolves who menace the flock entrusted to my care; now I must accept political responsibility in order to give support to those who preserve the rule of law; now I must bear patiently the villainies of brigands, and then I must confront them, yet in all charity.

My mind is sundered and torn to pieces by the many and serious things I have to think about. When I try to concentrate and gather all my intellectual resources for preaching, how can I do justice to the sacred ministry of the word? I am often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with men of the world and sometimes I relax the discipline of my speech. If I preserved the rigorously inflexible mode of utterance that my conscience dictates, I know that the weaker sort of men would recoil from me and that I could never attract them to the goal I desire for them. So I must frequently listen patiently to their aimless chatter. Because I am weak myself I am drawn gradually into idle talk and I find myself saying the kind of thing that I didn’t even care to listen to before. I enjoy lying back where I once was loath to stumble.

Who am I — what kind of watchman am I? I do not stand on the pinnacle of achievement, I languish rather in the depths of my weakness. And yet the creator and redeemer of mankind can give me, unworthy though I be, the grace to see life whole and power to speak effectively of it. It is for love of him that I do not spare myself in preaching him.

Salva nos, Domine, vigilantes, custodi nos dormientes, ut vigilemus cum Christo et requiescamus in pace.

Keep us safe, Lord, while we are awake, and guard us as we sleep, so that we can keep watch with Christ and rest in peace.

Brothers of Holy Cross Abbey before Vigils (website).


adj., on the alert; watchful.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin vigilāre, to be watchful]

See also:

Through the night

The Feast of the Nativity

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There is a religious communion claiming a divine commission, and holding all other religious bodies around it heretical or infidel; it is a well-organized, well-disciplined body; it is a sort of secret society, binding together its members by influences and by engagements which it is difficult for strangers to ascertain. It is spread over the known world; it mak be weak or insignificant locally, but it is strong on the whole from its continuity; it may be smaller than all other religious bodies together but is larger than each separately. It is a natural enemy to governments external to itself; it is intolerant and engrossing and tends to a new modelling of society; it breaks laws, it divides families. It is a gross superstition; it is charged with the foulest crimes; it is despised by intellect of the day; it is frightful to the imagination of the many. And there is but one communion such. (208)

Blessed John Henry Cardinal, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

n., The fellowship or mutual relationship between members of one church, or between bodies which recognize each other fully as branches of the universal Christian Church.

[Middle English communioun, Christian fellowship, Eucharist, from Old French communion, from Latin Latin commūniō, mutual participation, from commūnis, common]

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Et in hoc scimus quoniam cognovimus eum si mandata eius observemus qui dicit se nosse eum et mandata eius non custodit mendax est in hoc veritas non est qui autem servat verbum eius vere in hoc caritas Dei perfecta est in hoc scimus quoniam in ipso sumus.

Καὶ ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐγνώκαμεν αὐτόν, ἐὰν τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρῶμεν. ὁ λέγων ὅτι Ἔγνωκα αὐτὸν καὶ τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ μὴ τηρῶν ψεύστης ἐστίν, καὶ ἐν τούτῳ ἡ ἀλήθεια οὐκ ἔστιν· ὃς δ’ ἂν τηρῇ αὐτοῦ τὸν λόγον, ἀληθῶς ἐν τούτῳ ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ τετελείωται. ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐσμεν·

We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. Anyone who says, ‘I know him’, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. But when anyone does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him. (2:3-5)

First Epistle of St. John

A lie [mendacium] may be in itself contrary to charity by reason of its false signification. For if this be about divine things, it is contrary to the charity of God, whose truth one hides or corrupts by such a lie; so that a lie of this kind is opposed not only to the virtue of charity, but also to the virtues of faith and religion: wherefore it is a most grievous and a mortal sin. [IIa-IIae q. 110 a. 4 co.]

St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

n., the tendency to be untruthful

[from Late Latin mendācitās, from Latin mendāx untruthful]

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One who worships in spirit and in truth no longer honors the Creator because of His works, but praises Him because of Himself.

Evagrius of Pontus

n., a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, esp. Christian worship, is conducted

[Late Latin lītūrgia, from Greek λειτουργία, public service, from λαός, people + ἔργον, work]

Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (2012)

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God our Father,
as we have celebrated today the mystery of the Lord’s resurrection,
grant our humble prayer:
free us from all harm
that we may sleep in peace
and rise in joy to sing your praise.
Through Christ our Lord,

May the all‐powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.

“Compline”, Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire

n., the last of the seven canonical hours recited or sung just before retiring.

[Middle English, alteration of compli, from Old French complie, from Medieval Latin hōra complēta, final hour]

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Laura McCants, “Beehive in Lumber Bridge” (2011)

Laura McCants, “Apiary in Lumber Bridge” (2011)

First look for a site and position for your apiary,
where no wind can enter (since the winds prevent them
carrying home their food) and where no sheep or butting kids
leap about among the flowers, or wandering cattle brush
the dew from the field, and wear away the growing grass.
Let the bright-coloured lizard with scaly back, and the bee-eater
and other birds, and Procne, her breast marked
by her blood-stained hands, keep away from the rich hives:
since they all lay waste on every side, and while the bees are flying,
take them in their beaks, a sweet titbit for their pitiless chicks.
But let there be clear springs nearby, and pools green with moss,
and a little stream sliding through the grass,
and let a palm tree or a large wild-olive shade the entrance,
so that when the new leaders command the early swarms
in their springtime, and the young enjoy freedom from the combs,
a neighbouring bank may tempt them to leave the heat,
and a tree in the way hold them in its sheltering leaves. (IV.8-24)

Virgil, The Georgics

N.B. – There is a nice short documentary by Made by Hand, aptly called “The Beekeeper” that is well worth your five minutes.


n., A place where bees and beehives are kept, especially a place where bees are raised for their honey.

[Latin apiārium, beehive, from apis, bee.]

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‎It was upon the 4th of March, as I have good reason to remember, that I rose somewhat earlier than usual, and found that Sherlock Holmes had not yet finished his breakfast. The landlady had become so accustomed to my late habits that my place had not been laid not my coffee prepared. With the unreasonable petulance of mankind I rand the bell and gave a curt intimation that I was ready. Then I picked up a magazine from the table and attempted to while away the time with it, while my companion munched silently at his toast. One of the articles had a pencil mark at the heading, and I naturally began to run my eye through it.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

adj, rudely brief or abrupt, as in speech or manner; terse

[Middle English, short, brief, from Anglo-Norman, from Latin curtus]

adj., unreasonably irritable or ill-tempered; peevish.

[Latin petulāns, insolent, from petere, to seek, assail]

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3:30am Vigils
7:00am Lauds, Eucharist
2:00pm Mid-Day Prayer
5:30pm Vespers
7:30pm Compline

A Cistercian brother at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virgina.

adj., of common or established type or occurrence

[Middle English ordinarie, from Old French, from Latin ōrdinārius, from ōrdō, order]

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Much vague and sentimental journalism has been poured out to the effect that Christianity is akin to democracy, and most of it is scarcely strong or clear enough to refute the fact that the two things have often quarreled. The real ground upon which Christianity and democracy are one is very much deeper. The one specially and peculiarly un-Christian idea is the idea of [Thomas] Carlyle – the idea that the man should rule who feels that he can rule. Whatever else is Christian, this is heathen. If our faith comments on governments at all, its comment must be this – that the man should rule who does not thing that he can rule. Carlyle’s hero may say, “I will be king”; but the Christian saint must say “Nolo episcopari.” If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it mean this – that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man who feels himself unfit to wear it. Carlyle was quite wrong; we have not got to crown the exceptional man who knows he can rule. Rather we must crown the much more exceptional man who knows he can’t. (220-221)

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Nolo episcopari, Latin, lit., “I do not wish to be bishop”.

So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. (1.23-26)

The Acts of the Apostles

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Pentecost (1308)

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